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In the Cage: Bishop or Lehner down the stretch?

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

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In the Cage: Bishop or Lehner down the stretch?
The Sens acquired Ben Bishop from the Blues, but also have Robin Lehner, who defeated the Islanders on Sunday. Which can fantasy owners depend on?
Every Monday during the season, goalie specialist and founder of The Goalie Guild Justin Goldman will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy goaltenders in NHL.com's weekly segment: "In the Cage." From updated goalie rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Goldman will be your fantasy goalie expert all season long.

On Sunday morning, Ottawa acquired 25-year-old Ben Bishop from St. Louis in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. A team that desperately needed help in goal due to Craig Anderson's hand laceration, the Senators not only traded for immediate support, they also likely secured a backup for next season.

On Sunday afternoon, however, it was Robin Lehner that made 28 saves in a 5-2 win over the Islanders. Despite giving up a goal to John Tavares just 49 seconds into the game, the highly-touted Swedish rookie made many key saves in the first period, and was rewarded with the game's “first star” honors.

Now the organization has an interesting decision to make. Do they start Lehner or Bishop on Tuesday night in Boston? Furthermore, do they ride the hot goalie, or do they default to their new arrival?

TOP 30 FANTASY GOALIES

These modified re-rankings are a projection of a goalie’s fantasy output for the entire season. Our rankings are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, and of course GAA and SP%. The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). It is important to note that our rankings reflect sheer fantasy value, not talent. A less-talented goalie could be ranked higher because of his team’s strong defense and offense.
*Please note that we remove goalies currently on IR from the weekly rankings

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Craig Anderson, Senators (26) (IR)
Bishop is expected to sign his new one-year, one-way contract on Monday afternoon, meaning he would only have a pre-game skate on Tuesday to get acclimated. With that in mind, Lehner is more likely to earn the start against the Bruins, and that could open the door for him to earn more consecutive starts.

But don't lose sight of the fact that Bishop is at a point in his pro career where consistency, experience, and attitude -- elements Lehner lacks -- make him a more reliable option down the stretch for the Senators. In fact, his play in Peoria before the trade was airtight. He was 6-2 in his last eight games with a 1.91 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, stopping 91 of 96 shots in his past three games.

The decision seems obvious on the surface -- Ottawa acquired Bishop with immediacy in mind, and won't waste time getting him into some games. But as long as Lehner keeps winning, and if Bishop needs a few days to get situated with the Senators, maybe coach Paul MacLean rides the hot hand.

Poolies will have to play the “risk versus reward” game, but we suggest you play it safe and secure Bishop if you need him. One loss, and Lehner could be headed right back down to Binghamton.

TRENDING UPWARD

Jaroslav Halak -- Despite Halak's terrific stats lately, his play on the road left much to be desired. He had just two regulation wins in 14 games (2-8-3), and was nowhere close to his season mark of a .924 save percentage. That was until last week, when he put together two straight road wins in Nashville and Winnipeg, both in the shootout by scores of 3-2. He stopped 25 of 27 in Nashville, and then topped that by stopping 39 of 41 in Winnipeg, a game many analysts consider to be his best game of the season.       

Semyon Varlamov -- Aside from a real strong start in October, there hasn't been much to write home about for Varlamov this season. But last week was a positive sign, as he won back-to-back games for the re-energized Avalanche. He stopped 32 of 33 shots in a win at home over the Kings last Wednesday, and then he pitched a 28-save shutout less than 24 hours later in Columbus. The two wins have him back on track, and if Colorado wants to make the playoffs, they will need him to play this way down the stretch.

Kari Lehtonen -- With four games in six nights last week, a game off to begin a back-to-back series was the perfect energy boost Lehtonen needed to keep playing stellar hockey. He shut out Montreal last Tuesday with 33 saves on the road, and then watched Richard Bachman secure a win on Thursday in Chicago. He returned on Friday to stop 28 of 29 shots in a 4-1 win over the Wild, and then stopped 24 of 26 shots in a 3-2 overtime win at home over the Canucks on Sunday afternoon.  

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Antti Niemi -- Things went from bad to worse for Niemi last week, as he was pulled in two of his three games. He allowed three goals on 11 shots to lowly Columbus last Tuesday, and then bounced back with a strong 29-save effort in a 2-1 win over Toronto last Thursday. But last Saturday in Nashville, he allowed three goals on just seven shots, and once again got the hook. So he's right back where he started a week ago, except now he's clinging to a weak 2-5-1 record with a 3.87 GAA and .868 save percentage overall in February.            

Jimmy Howard -- By no means has Howard been terrible since returning from his broken finger, but hasn't reached the level he's expected to play at, either. He went 0-2-1 last week, stopping 90 of 99 total shots, a .909 save percentage. Again, that's not terrible by any means, but for a team like Detroit, anything under a .915 save percentage is going to leave room for improvement. The good news is he'll be facing Columbus on Tuesday, then Minnesota on Friday and Chicago on Sunday, three fairly winnable games.    

Carey Price -- With four losses in a row, it looks like Montreal is now out of the Eastern Conference playoff race. They sit 10 points behind eighth-place Winnipeg, and there's very little positive energy surrounding the team on the day of the trade deadline. Price is 1-3-1 in his last five games, and he has allowed three goals in each game, a far cry from his four-game winning streak at the start of February.         

KEEP AN EYE ON …

This report was filed on Sunday night, so the focus of the entire NHL will be on Monday's trade deadline. Bishop was the first goalie with any type of fantasy value to be moved, but keep an eye on the Penguins, as they may be in the market for a backup to Marc-Andre Fleury. He needs some quality rest if he's expected to play strong in a deep playoff run, and Brent Johnson has really struggled in February.
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